Part of USS Denver: Mission 4: Can’t Come Home Again Part: 3 and USS Denver: Mission 4: Can’t Come Home Again

In The Air

Somewhere North of Billings, MT
July 22, 2374 21:15
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Ensign Sh’iv rolled her fighter to the right and looked down below.  The farm house was quiet.   The barn sat dark and silent like a bulwark against time.  The house was dark as well.  By all appearances it appeared abandoned.   Intelligence said otherwise.

The Starfleet  assault team sat on the edge of the property just out of tricorder scanning range.  There was no hiding one-hundred trained fighting men and women.   

She rolled back into level flight and scanned her instruments.  Nothing.  She wondered if the Intelligence had in fact been wrong.

Ming settled into a vector parallel to his XO, AKA Knight 4, about 200 clicks off her port wing.  Knight 5 was 200 clicks off of his port wing doing the same.  Knight 3 was 200 clicks off Knight 4’s starboard wing.  Knight two was in a low altitude pattern above him and his XO’s vectors to drop in if and when things devolved into a fur ball. 

It’d been a while since he’d flown combat air patrols, or CAPs, but it was rather like riding a bike.  The space between each craft was to allow for better observation of the terrain below but 200 clicks was nothing for fighters like his wing used if trouble arose.   Not crowding was also likely look less suspicious from the ground.   

The whole cross dimensional incursion thing seemed a bit surreal to Ming despite knowing about the very real existence of the other universes.  He felt hyperaware of his surroundings though.  There was a tension he’d never felt before and he couldn’t put a finger on it.  This was far from his first live fire operation since the war began.  This was something well beyond that.   

As they got closer to the target Marcus felt the hair on the back of his neck stand.  Within moments a realization came to him.  His counterpart was out there….somewhere…..without any doubt.   He murmured, “Bastard.”

Knight 1 knew better to break radio silence and transmit in the open however.  He knew things were closer to getting quite serious but he had no real idea what form it’d come in. One thing he did do was have his fighter’s computer send a tight beam message to the other atmospheric Knights with two words:  Stay frosty.

It was one of the prearranged codes that had been set up with the wing.  It basically meant he felt trouble on the horizon however its nature and direction wasn’t yet known.  Knight 3 sent back an acknowledging double click on the same tight band signal.  Knight 5 was next.  The wing seemed more accepting of some of the signals than others…All except T’Kown who had maintained the unflappability expertly wielded by most Vulcans.  

“Bogies nine o’clock low,” Ensign Sh’iv announced over the intercom. 

Ming checked.  Sh’iv nailed it.  There were enemy craft showing up on the scanners alright.  The slippery buggers were laying in wait.  Smart move Knight 1 thought with grudging admiration. Point in fact it was a tactic which he used more than once.  There was a flash of annoyance at himself for not giving the thought of it being used against him and his flight the seriousness it perhaps should have gotten.   

No matter.  There really was no way of knowing what most new enemies might present.   His first instinct was to dive on them weapons hot.  On an act of pure instinct he growled, “Knights 3 and 4 hard right!  Knights 2 and 5 with me — hard to port NOW!”  

His sensors showed that his orders were being enacted when two coherent green beams of phaser energy split the night where he and his XO would’ve been had they maintained course.  That kind of move was why he had Knight 5 hanging at such high altitudes.   

He found the action absurdly annoying which was uncharacteristic of him in combat.  He was usually able to keep emotionally even handed in combat.  Despite this he said, “Knight 2…Go after the bugger that fired at us on the ground as planned.” 

Knight 1 barely had to glance at the scanners to know it was some sort of firing emplacement.  Just like the flight leader knew there were exactly 4 bogies coming rising toward them from the ground.  After a moment Ming’s blood dropped a few degrees cooler when his fighter’s computer obeyed an earlier command and let him (and his flight) hear enemy transmissions. 

The drop was because he heard an angry voice identical to his saying, “Flogger 3 and 4….Take the Federation fighters that peeled off toward our rights.  The I and Flogger 2 are going after the other two.” 

That answered his question of if there was another version of him around.  Knight one said, “Looks like our dance cards are filled Knights.  Knights three and four are on your pair.  Knight five on me…We’re on our pair.” 

Erikson acknowledged him curtly as usual.   The man often, though not always, acted like words were the same as handing out gold pressed latinum which Ming had a certain respect for. 

Ensign Sh’ivhohlol with her wingman banked left and then right. An enemy fighter crossed in front of her, and she released a deadly barrage of phaser fire but it was a glancing blow and the the enemy rolled away to relative safety. 

Ming had another thought.  He added the enemy’s frequency for a brief transmission.   The head Knight said, “Flogger one….This is Knight one.  I hope you’ll forgive me if I do not wish you luck.  I aim to kick your ass.” 

Knight one proceeded to kill the link right as Flogger one let off an enraged scream.   That was the desired response.  Anger could be a useful tool.  Rage usually made one sloppy.  He actually heard Günter chuckle after the exchange.  Ming, at the moment , didn’t reprimand him.  Instead he dropped the nose of his fighter toward the ship of, he presumed, his counterpart.  His sensors indicated his wingman was right with him.  Head to head wasn’t usually the best game plan but he had something in mind.    

Diving for the ground battery her fighter whistled and was buffeted as she picked up speed.  Adjusting the inertial dampers to max she lined it up on her sensors , and with a single press of a button a pair of full size photon torpedos hanging from under the wings detached.  She pulled up and the fighter wined in protest while the torpedoes acting like “dumb” bombs fell to earth and obliterated the ground battery in a brilliant antimatter explosion. 

Ming’s sensors registered the explosion and he grinned.  He realized however it was Sh’iv rather than T’Kown.  At a glance he noted that the Vulcan was still a few seconds out.   He scowled slightly and made a mental note to flip flop their designations after this party was over. It was an oversight he should’ve caught when he elevated Knight 4 to XO. 

After what amounted to less than a heartbeat he shook the thought off.  He said, “Knight Actual to all Knights.  Switch to scrambler code Foxbat on my mark…Mark!” 

Once he stopped speaking he switched the encryption accordingly.  After a second or so he’d gotten four acknowledgements at which point he said, “Knight two, eyes out for another ground emplacement and ground fire.  Knight 5 you’re with me on designate Floggers one and two.  XO and Knight 3 on the remaining two.”

Ming and Günther dove on their pair.  He triggered his phaser array when he got the tone.  The ship he fired out rolled off to a side just as he did so with the wingman following suit.  Not before the wingman flogger fired at Knight 5 missing by literal inches but scorching the dorsal side of the Federation fighter’s starboard wing.   The Federation pilot swore loudly and acidly as he stuck with his flight commander.          

Knight Actual and Knight 5 chased their quarry with something just short of alacrity.  Ming sent a short code to his wingman and got an almost immediate acknowledgement.  Three seconds later both fighters fired their phasers at the flogger in front of Knight 5.  The mirror Ming pulled up hard at the second the Federation fighers had fired.  The mirror’s wingman wasn’t so lucky as it was hit and went down as it started breaking up.  Ming’s counterpart must’ve thought he was the target.  Just as well.    He’d just lost his wingman and was now in a 2:1 fight where the odds were now against him.  

Sh’iv rolled right just as energy fire flashed by her cockpit.  Pulling a hard turn she dove towards the ground he wingman struggling to keep up. The enemy followed closely as she side slipped from side to side making getting a targeting lock more difficult.   

She pulled a hard tight left turn, and her cockpit sensors screamed in alarm as the inertial damper warnings lit up her cockpit screen.  Master caution alarms filled the cockpit as over G loading stressed the spaceframe. The enemy fighter shot past, and as her enemy came into her targeting sensors and she released a full barrage of phaser fire and micro-photon torpedoes slammed into it and it started streaming smoke.  The pilot ejected, and unmanned the fighter nosed groundward  slamming into the Montana prairie and erupted into flames.

Ming didn’t relish the idea of killing his alternate self however he relished the idea of his own death less.  He activated the homing mechanism on the queued micro-torpedo and fired it off as he signaled, “Knight Actual:  Fox 2!”  

The Mirror Ming banked hard to starboard and almost dodged it.  Almost being the operative word.  It did save the mirror counterpart from turning into a fireball.  The concussion caused the enemy ship to move and flex unnaturally before starting into a wounded dive as it started to break up.  Ming saw his mirror counterpart eject as soon as the other deemed it safe.   He didn’t fire even though he suspected the other Ming might have.   

That left one enemy fighter out there.  That one was taken out by Knight 2, the current designation for Ensign T’Kown, who dove on the final enemy fighter and fired turning the final flogger into a fireball.  On that note he commed in to the flight frequancy, “Knights….Knight Actual.  That takes care of that batch of threats.  Keep an eye out though since there may be other bogies out there.  We have to keep the airspace clear until the ground forces are clear.”

“Understood sir,” Shi’iv responded back, “I’m still flying sir, but my panel is lit up like an Andorian sunset.”

Ming scowled.  He knew Erikson had taken some damage too.  Superficial to light most likely as his wingman was keeping up with him but damaged none the less.   

The Knight CO snarled with frustration but ended it before keying back into coms, “Damn.  Knights 4 and 5….Knight Actual.  Can you make it back to Denver?”

I’ll try Knight Actual,” Sh’iv replied back.

“Good.  Get yourselves back home, have the flight crews patch up and reload ASAP and get yourselves back as soon as plausable.  Knight Actual, Knight 2 and Knight 3 will hold things down here.  We’re still in good enough shape to do so.  If they can’t get it done in a reasonable amount of time….Get creative.  While you’re up there report the situation to whomever is in the Captain’s chair on my authority.  You got me XO,” Ming ordered then asked to verify his orders were clear. 

Understood Knight 4 out.”

She pulled back on the control stick and increased power to the impulse engines but as she did the fighter started to shake violently and audible alarms filled the cockpit.  The engines spewed black smoke and plasma as she arched across the sky

Knight 4 to Knight Actual…” her voice came over the coms with vibrato, “Engines are over heating.  Unable to return to base.”  She leveled off and reduced power to the engines and the vibration ceased, but the fighter was still streaming plasma. “Controls are sluggish,” she added as the fighter started to roll to the left in a shallow bank. She slowly increased power to the left engine and the asymmetrical thrust leveled the craft, but the vibration returned, just this time not as violently.

Ming snarled.  He was NOT going to lose a pilot on his first time out as a commanding officer.  He’d storm the gates of Hell followed by Gre’thor before he let that happen.  His fierce sense of loyalty was speaking and he didn’t care.  “Knight Actual to Knight 5…..How bad is your damage,” the Knight’s leader radioed.

Knight 5’s gutteral response came back, “Largely superficial sir.  Very slight drag but otherwise no issues.”

Understood Knight 5.  If you’re not 100% than I need you to return to base.  Reserve the Mialoss along with Crewman Andrews and either Ensign Lott if he’s available.  Stand ready reassigned from fighter pilot to SARdog.  The Mialoss is better for fast in an fast out with some teeth IF they can’t fix your fighter in short order”  Ming commanded

There was a long pause before the German accented pilot replied, “Understood.  Knight 5 returning to the Denver.

The Knight leader checked and saw Knight 5 comply.  He added, “Knights 2 and 3 continue on fighter and ground supression.  Three is assigned to wing and two is assigned to lead.  Confirm.”Knight two’s acknowledgement came a moment before three’s.  Nodding, “Knight Acutal to Knight 4.   Can you mantain flight or is that becomming problematic?”

There was a long pause,  “Knight 4 to Actual… I am able to maintain altitude,  vut maneuvering is difficult.  There’s a civilian airfield in Billings,  I am going to attempt a landing there.  Save it if I can.”

Ming’s blood was running more icily than going nose to nose with his mirror.  His death was not something he relished considering however losing someone under his charge was something he feared much more.  Maybe it was something to discuss with the ship’s counselor assuming that the Denver had been assigned one yet.“Actual to 4….I’m guiding you in.  2 and 3 should be ok for a little while at least.  Worst case we have the emergency transporter systems onboard. The ship we can replace if needed.  You’re not replacable, Ensign. Either which way I am with you,” Ming said.

The flight commander looked at his sensors and tapped the controls a couple of times.  “Shit,” was the first word that ran through his mind when he saw the readings on his XO’s ship.  Her ship was in dire straights worse than the outside scans by the mark one eyeball lead one to believe.  Verbally he continued, “Let’s head in that direction.  I have my emergency transporter locked on to you just in case. Seeing as your ship is the one in distress I will suggest you be the one to declare the emergency and get guidance from the control tower attached to the field.” 

“Understood sir,” Shi’iv responded. Switching to civilian frequencies Sh’iv spoke, “Knight 4 to Billings Approach. I am declaring an emergency. Requesting vectors.”

Billings Approach to Knight 4. Understood.  Adjust heading to 120 and decend and maintain 5300 to intersect the localizer at HEXOS. When you get a chance fuel and souls on board.”

Sh’iv hadn’t even looked at that gauge until now.  The duetierum tanks were dangerously low.  Something had compromised one of both of the fuel tanks. “Knight 4, Approach, two souls on board… approximately twenty minutes worth of fuel.  Possible fuel leak.”

Approach,  thank you Knight 4. Switch to 127.2 for tower. Goodluck.”

“Knight 4 to Approach.  Switching to 27.2. Thank you.”

The rest of the approach went smoothly.  With the runway in sight she slowed even further and thr fighter started the vibrate violently.   She had full pitch, but roll was minimal at best.  She could control yaw with engines and so far that had been effective.  Switching back to Starfleet frequencies, “Knight 4 to Actual. How should I land this thing?  I’m not sure I have full vertical control.”

Ming could all but feel her uncertainty.  He made a point to keep his voice a bit lighter with the next words that he spoke, “Very carefully Ensign.”

He spoke a bit more seriously now, “Try not to force it and do not make any sudden corrections.  Any corrections that need to make try to be deliberate but gentle about them.  Hopefully that makes sense.”   

She chuckled,  “Carefully was the plan sir.  I’m not going to risk a vertical landing.”

Billings tower to Knight 4, you are cleared to land runway 10-left.”

“Knight 4 to Billings tower, cleared to land 10-left.”

Intentionally leaving the landing skids up since the fighter didn’t have wheels.  Pulling back on the speed she deployed a little reverse thrusters to slow her approach.  Absently she wiped sweat from her brow as the runway grew closer. 

In what seemed like hours, but in reality was only a few minutes she was gliding over the threshold  and a moment later she had touched down on the concrete surface and was skidding along making a terrible grinding noise of tritanium on concrete. Once she was fully touched down she applied reverse thrusters and the fighter slowed  and  finnally came to a stop in the center of the runway.

Ming had coordinated his own flight path and landing near Sh’iv’s wounded bird.  He taxied close and set his systems to standby.  He exited his fighter and walked toward the one belonging to his XO.  He shook his head as he looked over her fighter.   It could’ve been worse but it could have been much better.

The lieutenant looked at Sh’iv as she exited her figther.  She looked a little wrung out but understandable after that ride.  He studied her for a moment before he said, “You’re not hurt are you, ensign?”

“I am not,” she replied as she looked over her fighter.   Seeing the whole aft section for the first time it was pock marked from phaser fire with whole panels missing. “I thought I did the damage when I went over G. I didn’t realize that pilot nealry got me.”

“I know the feeling.  I nearly got my ass shot off at the start of the war.  My bird was at least as bad as yours but somehow I made it home.  I am just as happy to made it safely here.  I’d hate to lose my XO especially first run out,” Ming said with some lightness to start with more sincerity toward the end.

“That’s hard to belive sir.”“It was at least as much luck as skill,” the Human said with a hint of almost gallows like humor. 

Ming said more soberly, “We still have a job to do.  Denver still has not recalled us and ground ops has not confirmed the situation has been resolved.  Right now Knight’s two and three are out on their own.  As it stands we need to get back in the game.  With your bird in the shape she is I would like to suggest having Denver send down security to secure your ship and that you join me on my fighter as EWO and gunner if you’re willing.”

Sh’iv nodded simply,  “I’ll do what I can.”

Ming fixed Sh’iv with a confident look from his violet eyes as he said, “I am certain you’ll do fine XO.” 

“Thank you sir.”

The lieutenant tapped his combadge, “Ming to Denver.  Requesting a three member security detail to secure a downed fighter on the Billings airfield.  The pilot will be joining me in my fighter assisting with our assigned duties.  Please confirm.” 

The LT JG security officer replied and confirmed.  Within minutes a security team consisting of four security team members materialized on site.  After a brief exchanged between the Knight and the senior security team officer the ranking pilot gestured for Sh’iv to walk with him as he headed toward his fighter.  

David glanced at Sh’iv and smiled, “This’ll be the first time I’ve had a colleague with me in one of these in quite a while.  They’re technically one to two person ships but with the war personnel are generally limited so a fighter is a one person show more often as not.”

“Everyone’s a bit short fleetwide,” Sh’iv observed. “Makes sense not to double up your losses if you can help it.”

When they arrived at what’d been his fighter alone Lt. Ming gestured and said, “After you Ensign.”

Sh’iv nodded her antennae twitching as she pulled her flight helmet back on and climbed into the second seat of the fighter. She immediatly went to work doing pre-flight checks.

Ming followed his XO into the starfighter and assisted with the startup along side her.  He made a point to watch her out the corner of his eye.  In a combination of pointed professional discussion and a bit less casual chitchat the Lieutenant said, “One of the pilots we knocked out of the sky was a mirror universe alternate.  I was lucky.  I managed to think of what I’d do on a worst day possible and it worked out.  I still find it deeply…..unsetteling.  I mean the fact he was out there and had the very likely intent to kill me and my team makes it a bit harder to wrap my mind around.”

Sh’iv looked over a Ming before entering commands, “Targeting scanners… green.  Phasers… green.  Micro-torpedo launchers… green.  Tactical systems are a go. Lieutenant,  now is not the time to be discussing personal matters.  You can wrestle with the moral implications later, but for now my life and yours depends on your head being in the moment.”

David Marcus Ming nodded, “I realize that.  It was a momentary thought at most.  I have every intent on focusing on getting our mission done and all of us back to the Denver.  I can gaurantee that.  Continuing on……”

“Impulse generators… standby.  Impulse regulators… check. Impulse intercoolers… check.  Landing struts… deployed and locked.  Ground lights… on. Atmospheric controls… check. Anti-grav generators… check.  Preflight checklist is complete.”

With the checklest done in almost half the time Ming initiated the launch sequence and took them out into the sky and back into the fray.  As he set course toward the remaining two fighters in action he said, “True.  I saw the damage to that … well, whatever type of aircraft that was…took.  I’ve not seen the like so I presume it’s either something they cobbled together from this universe or else something they brougth with them.  But I do know it was critical damage that was forcing him down.  That was clear and the ship made a survivable crash landing.  It might make sense to keep an eye out for him just in case.  If he is as persistant as I can be it may not be the last dance with him.  Maybe.”

Ming manuvered a bit when they caught up with Knight’s 2 and 3 so that they were in a three ship triangle with Ming/Sh’iv in the lead, Knight two port and aft with Knight three starboard aft.  He said, “Shared scanning duties, electronic warfare and countermeasures to you, weaps and ordinance status checks primarily to you with piloting and weapons execution to me.  Any objections to that arrangement?”

“All systems a go,” Sh’iv said to Ming.

David nodded at Sh’iv’s response and kept a wary eye out in the term often used by earlier naval professionals.  He found himself also occasionally glancing at his XO and current EWO/Weaps officer.  He found himself trying to gauge her emotions amidst his due diligance to keep up with the current tactical and strategic duties.  There were points he had to hide a smile when he did so.  He perked up as he noticed some readings.  He said, making sure secure comms were operating, “Bearing 049 near ground level.  1.72 miles out.  Very near the property and main target for the ground troops.   I’m seeing readings that strike me as odd but I am not able to deturmine what they are.  Does anyone have a better visual or sensor view?”

Knight 2 radioed in, “Knight two reporting.  I don’t have anything more to add Knight Actual.  Negative on more detail.  I am unfamiliar with the emissions however it could be a weapon of some unknown design.”

Knight 3 chimed in after Knight 2’s report, “I concur with it being out of sorts Skipper.  It could just as easily be their means of jumping dimensions.  That said I do detect friendly ground IFF signals in the vacinity.  It might get dicey dropping what munitions we have left on target with that in mind.”

Ming considered McPherson’s analysis and nodded.  Valid points as well.  David then looked to Sh’iv and asked, “Your assessment XO?”

“Use the terrain to mask our signature,  get a good scan of the target and paint it for the others,” Sh’iv suggested. 

Ming considered the situation for a moment. Bombing the site was obviously out.  Considering the payload the risk to friendly forces would be too great.  Phasers it would be.  He also decided his fighter was the one going in.  Unlike the two other Knights he had assistance with him to help with keeping an eye on the scanners as well as the hardware status and more.   

“Knights 2 and 3…This is Knight Actual Primary.  We’re doing the attack run.  Cover us!  Help make sure we don’t get surprised,” Ming radioed. 

He turned and smiled at Sh’iv before saying, “Secure the torpedoes.  This’ll be a phaser run to lessen the risk of hitting friendlies. Keep an eye out for any surprises if you would.  Ship status too.  Any questions XO?” 

“Torpedoes are secured,” Sh’iv replied.   “Shields to maximum.  None sir.” 

Ming flashed Sh’iv a smile that was both confident, reassuring with a touch of something leaning toward unreadable.  He said, “Outstanding.  Let’s finish wrecking the mirror universe’s plans.” 

“They never stood a chance,” she replied.   “Foolish to try.”

David brought the fighter to atmospheric attack speed as he moniterd his readouts and sensor readings.   As they got closer he added visual scans as sometimes the mark one eyeball was sometimes the best.  He allowed himself to focus on the run.   

A moment later Knight 3 radioed, “Knight 3 to Knights actual and two….Possible AA emplacement three degrees port from target.  We’re being actively scanned.” 

“Actual prime to Knight 3…You’re cleared for attack.  Recommend guided torpedo at max range.  Knight 2….Fall back and continue to provide cover,”  Lieutenant Ming replied.  It was a necessary risk he had decided. 

After he got acknowledgements he muted the channel and muttered, “So much for a milk run to wrap things up.” 

A few seconds later Knight 3 let torpedoes fly…one to be specific.  It honed in and took the emplacement out with a spectacular light show.  A moment and a half later Ming got a good look at his target.  A hasty job of a small prefab building at the edge of the property.   

Smoothly shifting from his sensor displays, to his controls, to visual back to sensors again and starting the process over again.  He took a deep breath and held it for a moment before he cut loose with his fighter’s phaser arrays.  The building and contents all but disintegrated into a superheated mass of slag under the onslaught of the coherent energy beams

Moments later the three fighters were back in formation.  Nothing like a good cleanup run.  He took his eyes off of the controls and readouts for the span of a couple of heartbeats as he studied Sh’iv’s face.  Returning to the flying necessities he said, “I’m actually rather glad we’re getting to fly the remainder of this mission together.  You have done nothing but reaffirm my decsision to make you my XO.  I am also quite pleased that you’re on my team.”  

Talon to fighter wing.  Targets are dead. Situation is secured,” the captain’s voice broke over the coms.  “Return to Denver.”

“Knight Acual Alpha to Talon.  Knight 5 already returned with damage.  Knight 4 is returning with me as her fighter was forced down due to damage and is at the Billings airfield under guard and is unflyable.  Knight Actual alpha and beta, 2 and 3 setting course back to Denver.”

The three fighters moved to comply and set course for the USS Denver.  This wasn’t the one sided victory one might hope for.  It was a victory none the less and everyone was going home.  That was what mattered.